The Forgotten Devadasis of the Chettiyars….
Once upon a time, in the temples of the rich Chettiyar kingdom there thrived the Devadasis – these beautiful women with immense talent in the field of dancing, music and other arts were dedicated to pleasing the Gods through their performances in the temple courtyards. The kings valued their talent, dedication, devotion and often adorned them with pieces of jewellery, custom made to enhance the ethereal beauty of the danseuses’ to an even higher degree. The craft of temple jewellery making brought to life through the Chettiyars, a clan known for their taste in arts, aesthetic sensibilities and enthusiasm to forward and create a distinct culture for the region!
Our search for this not so popular jewellery-making style took us to the bustling trade town of Nagercoil just off the tip of the Indian peninsula. We rode from Kanyakumari, the isle of enlightenment with the three seas coming to hold hands with the last visible land stretch of the Indian peninsula.
At Nagercoil we had some very interesting exchanges, first we met Geetha. She and her husband, Ashok Kumar have for years run a workshop of artisans creating temple jewellery. She and the craft-smiths explained to us the process of silver modelling, arac or wax filling, stone engraving and polishing. Her warm smile and easy embrace helped us to familiarise the art pretty well. The pieces of jewellery are so exquisite, so rich and vibrant in appeal that this was the first destination where in spite of a vow in self control we pushed ourselves to make personal purchases!
Then we met V K Muthukumar, a State award recipient and son of the National award winning jewel-smith SVS Monickam Aachary, reputed with the revival of temple jewellery in India. Few of his designs were of such elegance and had such finesse that our admiration knew no bound. A long chat, some pictures and a lot of lost lanes later we left Nagercoil and kept along the winding highway for the next craft hub.
In our heads were the bright jewels encrusted in the jewellery pieces and in our ears were the sound of a forgotten Devadasis dancing on a black stone courtyard adorned in her finery. Nagercoil had entrapped us in a different time!